Friday, July 8, 2011

What's In A Name?

What's In A Name?

Mentioned without reference in Mike Robles' welcome blog entry is the name of our office: UC Davis Athletics Communications. This represents the third different billing by which my unit has run during my time with the Aggies, and at least the fourth in its history. We previously called ourselves "Athletics Media Relations," which in turn was a reboot from "Sports Information." Go back far enough, I've been told, and the common name for offices like ours was "Sports Publicity."

Sports Information stood as the industry standard for decades, so much so that you still occasionally hear the term "SID" (for Sports Information Director) in the college athletics business. For that matter, the national organizing body is CoSIDA, pronounced "co-SIGH-dah" and short for College Sports Information Directors of America.

Of course, "SID" generally remained a college sports insider's term, so whenever I described what I did to someone outside the business – the Thanksgiving dinner table comes to mind -- I first had to decipher the abbreviation, then attempt to explain my actual job. On my best days, I found myself talking to a member of the Department of Transportation, for which those letters stand for Side Impact Dummy.

At UC Davis, our directory listing further compounded the mystery. We appeared separately from the rest of the athletics department, which meant we received calls from people who assumed Sports Information literally meant "information about sports."

Oh, the questions I used to field.

"Where can I rent skis on campus?"
"I strained my neck this morning… what should I do for treatment?"
"How can I get a hold of a member of the International Olympic Committee?"
"What instance in the last few years has a Major League Baseball team gone 81-81?"

Yes, these are all real. That fourth one came from Dr. Sherman Stein, the brilliant and popular mathematics professor, who needed a practical example for illustrating short-term variance in a 50-50 proposition. A quick aside: Dr. Stein called again later, seeking a photo of a high jumper clearing the bar to use as a visual aid in showing center of mass. At the time, I had no such shot of an Aggie student-athlete, and this request long predated Google Images. So the only thing I could find was a wire photo of Amy Acuff competing at the 1999 Millrose Games.

Thus, we changed our name to Media Relations, which mirrored what was found at Division I athletics programs and professional sports teams.

So why Athletics Communications? For starters, we are keeping up with current trends. Many of our Division I brethren have made already the switch from Media Relations or Media Services to Athletics Communications. (An exception is Stanford, which refers to its office as Athletics Communications And Media Relations. Then again, a program with three dozen teams knows how to keep its bases covered.)

Furthermore, the new name more accurately encompasses what we do. The rise of the Web-based new media, coupled with the economy-induced shrinkage of newspaper and television sports departments, means our office no longer serves as a mere liaison for print and broadcast outlets. Instead, we have become yet another of those outlets. With all due respect to my friends on Third and G Streets in town, when most fans want news about the Aggie student-athletes, not only do they check the pages of the Davis Enterprise but they will also visit the official website.

As such, expect to see a continued shift in the way we present UC Davis athletics on the official site. The relaunch brought a greater emphasis on multimedia (e.g. All-AGcess video) and non-event content (e.g. the "Getting to Know" features). You'll see even more of that in the upcoming year, along with our usual statistics, schedules, rosters, etc.

And, of course, expect to read more from me on this new blog. I can nerd out about Aggie athletics like almost no one else, and this medium provides an opportunity to discuss subjects and viewpoints that simply don't fit on the main site. I look forward to this new form of communication.

- Mark Honbo, Assistant Director

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